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MADISON, Wis. - This year’s flu season resulted in the hospitalization of 2,796 patients in Wisconsin, which is nearly five times as many as last year.
“This year has been marked with a lot of more serious illness than we’re used to seeing,” said Dr. John Temte, a physician with UW Health and member of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Immunization Practices.
Many of the hospitalizations have been for very young and older patients. The hospitalization rate for children between newborn and age 4 in the U.S. is 22 for every 100,000 while the rate for seniors 65 and over is 91.6 for every 100,000.
Nationally, 26 flu deaths have occurred so far this year compared with 10 during all of last year.
The reason for the high number of reported flu cases and hospitalizations is being traced to a shift in the strain of flu occurring this year from what was expected and the vaccine that was created.
“The main reason is this virus that is most common out there is somewhat different than what’s in the vaccine,” Temte said.
Even though the vaccine offers limited protection from the flu this year, given the months of flu season still ahead, it is still recommended for individuals who have not been vaccinated.
“The other thing that’s important to remember is even if we’ve hit the peak, we still have roughly 50 percent of the cases that are going to occur are yet to occur. So if you haven’t been vaccinated yet, there is still time,” Temte said.
While the yearly flu vaccine remains one of the best defenses, researchers are developing what could be the next generation of flu vaccines.
“I think the holy grail of influenza vaccines is what is called the universal vaccine and that is one that instead of providing vaccination year after year is one that might be given every five or 10 years.,” Temte said.
The universal vaccine is in the trial stage, but Temte believes it will be at least five years before it could receive Food and Drug Administration approval. The universal vaccine will need to be tested for effectiveness and safety.
Temte believes if approved, it could be a game changer for the future of flu in this country.
“Influenza is a type of virus that if you have a good matched vaccine and you have a lot of use of that vaccine you could actually make influenza largely go away," Temte said.
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